You could hear the yelps, barks, and whines before you could see them — scores of dogs, encrusted in mud, kept at the end of chains attached to small, run-down doghouses, with no bedding. Fed primarily on white bread, the dogs lacked adequate nutrition, veterinary care, and crucial human interaction. They had little hope of ever being adopted. This was the grim situation at the municipal shelter in Jajce, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Like many places around the world, Jajce is faced with public safety issues caused by roaming dogs. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has been working there for more than a year through a partnership with the United Nations Development Program, in order to help the community identify and establish a plan to address related problems. This on-going work is part of IFAW’s Humane Community Development Program, assisting communities to create long-term, sustainable plans to improve the relationship between people and dogs. Soon after coming together to draft a plan for roaming dogs in Jajce, community members realized the town lacked the resources to make their shelter a functional and happy place for dogs. Instead of continuing to house dogs indefinitely, without adequate care or a chance to be rehomed, the community decided to permanently shut down the shelter and asked IFAW for help.
Puppies at the shelter in Jajce, Bosnia-Herzegovina before heading to Germany where they were adopted by waiting families.
So IFAW partnered with the German organization Streunerglück (literally “stray luck”), which would coordinate the fostering and adoption of the dogs. Our Companion Animals team would evacuate the shelter and transport the dogs from Jajce first to quarantine for three weeks, and then on from quarantine to their final destinations across Germany and Austria.
Unfortunately, there were simply too many dogs to take in one trip, so we planned for two. The dogs who had been lined up with homes would be in the first group, along with any dogs who needed immediate veterinary care or had brand-new puppies.
We delivered the dogs to a quarantine shelter in northern Bosnia, just a few miles from the Croatia border. Here, they received veterinarian checkups, and were spayed and neutered. Best of all, they got daily walks and as much affection as our team could possibly dole out.
IFAW Companion Animals team members Ellie Milano and Kati Loeffler check Mateo’s microchip number to prepare for the move.
We expected the young puppies, who have never really had much human interaction, to be fearful and wild. But once they were freed from the terrible confines of the shelter, they blossomed into extremely sociable dogs, and proved they would be perfect companions for the dog lovers waiting to adopt them.
After three weeks in quarantine, we set out for the Bosnian border and crossed into Croatia. The veterinarian on the Bosnian side had spent days preparing the necessary paperwork to allow the dogs to leave the country, and we passed customs without incident.
The team and its truck full of dogs passed through Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria, and finally into the parking lot of a church in Munich. People were gathered, awaiting the precious delivery. The dogs were off to join their new families, after having suffered such an awful start in life. We continued on to pre-appointed meeting spots to introduce dogs one by one to the wonderful people whom Streunerglück had screened, interviewed, visited, and at last selected as the best match for each dog. People waited for us with coffee and sandwiches, hand-painted signs, grinning from ear to ear.
Rescued dog Emma prepares for the trip to its forever home in Germany and is placed in the carrier by IFAW’s Companion Animals Program Director Kate Atema.
After this trip, we returned to Jajce to pick up the remaining dogs, and to close the shelter for good. The process was the same; check microchips, load dogs, bring them to quarantine for three weeks until they could be transported into the EU and to their new homes. But this time, after the last dog was loaded, we stopped on our way out to close the big metal gates for the last time, and post signs that read in Bosnian “Shelter for dogs is closed.”
Later that day, we gathered to commemorate the closing of the shelter. A representative from the Mayor’s office, the UNDP, and IFAW’s Companion Animals Program Director Kate Atema all spoke. In turn, they congratulated the community on this milestone, and reiterated that the closing of this shelter marks a crucial step toward improving the lives of animals in Jajce.
The community members were all smiles. They were proud of this moment, pleased with the knowledge that their shelter would no longer harbor suffering, empowered because they created this change for their town and willing to devote resources to improve animal welfare for roaming dogs.
IFAW’s Companion Animals Program Director Kate Atema provided comfort to Sarabi a rescued dog at the shelter in Jajce, Bosnia-Herzegovina before the move.
All image source: IFAW